“Every man has his price” Discuss with
reference to ‘A man for all seasons.’
In the play, ‘A man for all Seasons’, Rich presents us with the idea that ‘every man has his price’. The play looks at how every character except More, is able to compromise their principles in exchange for something that benefits them. This shows us that at the end of the day we all, other than a few, will only be looking out for our own self-interest. Money is probably the most common thing that would be offered to someone to compromise his or her principles for example. Money is a benefit and most people, being human, will accept it, as it would be in their self-interest to do so. The play gives us a range of characters that have different prices, most of which are met, and shows the benefits gained.
The Common Man represents us. He is as relevant in the times of the play as he is now. He is typical of us and just wants enough money to get by with, without getting into dangerous situations. He also shows how we will manipulate a situation to suit our own needs and wants.
The Common Man shows self-interest on a small scale. Take for example when More is using the Common Man’s boat and the issue of payment comes up. He asks More to ‘make it worth his while”. This shows us how most would act in the same situation. It shows that all people have a price even if it is on a small scale. The Boatman also goes as far to hint about his ‘young wife’. By mentioning her, he hopes that he will be tipped more money. He only wants enough money to get by with. This is relevant to us as we would bend or stretch the truth and his principles in order to benefit ourselves.
The Common Man will only go as far as he knows it safe to go. He won’t get himself into any dangerous situations, as he wants to protect himself. After both Chapuys and Rich try to find out information on More, the Common Man declares that he will go ‘deaf blind and dumb’ as soon as he ‘can’t touch the bottom’. That sums up the way we think. Like us, he will try and benefit himself as much as he can without actually putting himself at risk.
As the jailer, the common man comes across as selfish, although you can see the reasons why. You also realise that you would act similarly in situations like that. More is in jail and is saying goodbye for the last time to his wife and child, two people that he has the greatest love for. The Common Man as the jailer has to remove Alice and Meg from the cell and when More asks him for more time he tries to make excuses and calls himself a ‘plain, simple man’ who just wants ‘to keep out of trouble’. Once again, he puts himself first, as he knows that this could turn out to be a potentially dangerous situation for himself.
The Common Man only has his own interests at heart. There are many examples of this in the play, one of which being when Chapuys is getting information out of him and he admits he only will ‘serve one’ namely himself. Another example of this is when More tells him about the reduced wages. The Common Man immediately tells him that he will be unable to stay. Again he comes across as selfish and fickle.
Our first impressions of Rich are ones that make us see him as an intelligent, ambitious young man who wants power, prestige and money. He also comes across as fickle. It is ironic that he is the one that makes the comment that ‘every man has his price’ and that it is he that betrays himself the most as well as betraying More. Rich only seems interested in somewhat trivial matters compared to others. When Rich is talking to More about what money could buy he suddenly mentions ‘some decent clothes’. He seems obsessed with his image. This is just as important to him as More’s principles are to More.
Rich is the type of person who will change his standards and opinions almost instantaneously. Rich is desperate to get a job with power, so much so that he is willing to drop his standards and sinks to the point of trying to bribe the ‘Cardinal’s outer doorman’ in order to get closer to Wolsey. Rich tries to convince More to get him a place at court and is ‘bitterly disappointed’ when More suggests becoming a teacher instead. Rich sees his friendship with More as something that will make him more powerful. He thinks it as wrong to be ‘a friend of Sir Thomas’ and still have ‘no office’. Whereas most will have friends for their company and things, Rich only uses More when it is expedient to himself. At one point he even tries to deny and evade his friendship with More.
Rich comes across as being almost obsessed with coming into court or power and would try anything to get himself there. In other words is only looking out for his self-interest. Rich is the character that betrays himself the most. He is willing to lie on oath and therefore commit perjury, compromise his principles and betray More all for a position that has power.
Norfolk is one of More’s friends and like most, he supports his friend to a limit. Basically he will inconvenience himself slightly for his friend but wouldn’t put himself in danger too deep. Norfolk gives us the impression that he knows More quite well. He can see that More ‘takes things too far’ and that ‘it will end badly for him’. The second statement turns out to be more true then he realised it would.
Norfolk is willing to stand up for More to begin with. When he is talking to Cromwell he tries to get him to leave More alone by basically saying leave him how he is.’ Why not leave him silent?’ Norfolk goes on to stand up for More through the conversation and tries to get Cromwell to see reason.
Norfolk will stand by his principles, but only to a certain point. Norfolk tries to tell Cromwell that he will have no part in the bringing down of More. However Cromwell tells him that he has ‘no choice’ and threatens Norfolk. After a year, Norfolk is no longer a close friend but someone who is questioning him.
Wolsey is another character that is willing to take his principles so far, but like everyone, with the exception of More, he wouldn’t take his principles to the limit. Wolsey agrees with More on the issue of the King remarrying and even refers to Anne Boylen as ‘muck’. He also understands More and lets him look over the papers, as he was so ‘violently opposed to then Latin despatch’. This touches More.
Wolsey can see why the divorce of Catherine is necessary and wants More to give his support. He makes it clear to More that he should ignore his own feelings by saying to him ‘your conscience is your only affair’. He doesn’t realise though, that when he himself may be able to simply compromise his principles, More may find it somewhat more difficult to do it himself. It would seem that in the end, Wolsey did stand up for his principles in a small way as he was sentenced to death.
Cromwell is another political figure who like everyone is expedient. He puts his moral views aside and is motivated by what is politically expedient. Cromwell is intimidating to many characters that are just ‘acquainted’ with More. He is particularly intimidating towards Rich and this is shown when he holds his hand in a flame. He doesn’t seem to have any respect for anybody’s principles if it will benefit him. Cromwell is indirectly responsible for More’s execution as he targets and preys Rich’s vulnerability and greed for power and persuades him to lie on oath.
Margaret was the only person that actually came close to understanding More. She herself was also the only character that had similar principles to More. She stood by them nearly right throughout the play but her love for her father comes out higher and she compromises her principles.
When More wants to take off his chain it is not a case of who is able to take it off physically but who can take it off morally. More asks Alice but when she declines, he asks Meg as he knows that Meg is the only one that really understands him and the reasons why he has to do it. Meg takes the chain from his neck and More calls her ‘clever’ meaning that she is not only educationally clever but also in other ways e.g. in her principles.
Love seems to surpass Megs principles. Her love for her mother and father puts her principles in second place. It may not seem like it but she is actually being expedient to herself, as she will suffer. Meg does have a mind different to her father’s. When More is trying to explain how they can still be happy without money, Meg tells him that she thinks he should take the money. This could be because she wants to put herself first but it could be because she wants her mother to be happy. When More is in jail, Meg even will go under oath to persuade her father to come out, as she doesn’t want to lose him. Before, Meg would have understood her father’s reasons or at least tried to understand them and doesn’t try to question or change his view. However at this point in the play she tries to change his mind about the oath by reasoning with him rationally she even resorts to trying to make him feel guilty. At first, we may think that she is the same as More, but like everyone else in the play, she finally chooses what is expedient for herself over her principles.
Roper is the character that seems to be able to change his principles without any guilt or hesitation. He also manages to change his principles the fastest. When we first meet Roper we find out that he wishes to marry Meg. We also find out that he is heretic and that More is opposed to him marrying Meg because of this. More comments on Roper’s ‘terribly strong principles’ but these principles turn out to be not so strong. Although, Roper may have been a nice man his principles change rapidly and he announces to More that his views on the Church ‘have somewhat modified’. His actions don’t affect anyone but again this is just another example of how people will do what is ‘convenient’ and expedient to them. In this case, the benefit is that Roper was able to have more of a chance of marrying Meg, as his principles would be met with agreement with More.
Henry is a very powerful character in this play. He also comes across as almost childlike with the way he acts and argues and seems to have a short temper. His principles also change dramatically throughout the play. When he finds that the church wouldn’t allow him to divorce Catherine and marry Anne, he decides to change the whole church and make him head of the church and therefore letting the marriage to go ahead with the blessing of the church. Henry does this, as it is expedient for him. He won’t just accept that he can’t marry Anne but instead he tries to change the whole church so that he can marry Anne. Only one man, More, stands in his way and eventually More gets sentenced to death.
More is the exception of all characters, the only one in the play that stands by his principles and the only character that does not have a ‘price’. It is made clear that he doesn’t deliberately endanger himself and tries to keep his views to himself, as he knows that that what he thinks would be risky to say. He stands by his beliefs and admits that he took any path his ‘winding wits would find’. He shows us that he thinks that it is important that people believe what they want, not what is true or false.
By reading the play, ‘A man for all Seasons’, it becomes evident that Rich’s comment, ‘every man has his price’ is mostly true. All of the characters save for More were willing to compromise, betray or discard their principles in order to benefit themselves. The play presents a range of characters, Rich betrays his principles for power, Roper is easily able to compromise his principles for Meg and Meg, the one who is most like More, compromises her principles for her love of her father. More is the only character who doesn’t have a price. He clearly doesn’t want to die for his beliefs or become a ‘martyr’ but he is given no choice. His ‘price’ is not met by anything on earth and even his love for his family doesn’t come above his principles and love of God. This is surely why the play is named after him and he is ‘a man for all seasons’ meaning that nothing, no matter what, will be able to change his beliefs.